Heartburn: You Can Treat This Burning Pain Yourself!

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It’s there again, that uncomfortable, burning pain you feel in your esophagus. You have to belch more, and each time the acid seems to irritate your throat. And does the pressure behind your breastbone stress you even more? Are you finding that neither granny’s home remedies nor antacid tablets seem to help? Then we can now bring you several more options to alleviate your symptoms:

This article will explain why we believe medication is not the solution, and what is actually behind your heartburn!

In this article, you’ll learn what defines heartburn, what causes it, how to treat it, and most importantly, how you can soothe or even prevent it by exercising.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling self-help books on the treatment of pain conditions.

 
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Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, Dr. med. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary method to treat pain conditions. With the help of the so-called "osteopressure", where you press specific points on your body, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped entirely without medication or surgical intervention. This pain treatment allows you to alleviate pain by yourself. Find out how exactly this works in this article or our numerous YouTube videos.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on self-help against pain.

 
Read more

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, the physician Dr. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary new form of pain treatment: With the so-called "Osteopressur", in which certain points on your body are pressed, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped completely without medication or surgical intervention. It is particularly important that this pain treatment gives you the opportunity to help yourself against your pain in a self-determined way. You can find out exactly how this works in this article and in the numerous YouTube videos.

 1. A Definition of Heartburn/Acid Reflux and Its Typical Symptoms


Strictly speaking, heartburn is not a separate condition, just a symptom that many people suffer from every day, even children.

1.1 Definition

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid, formed in cells of your stomach lining (mucous membrane), flows back through your stomach (cardia) into the esophagus. This backflow (reflux) attacks the esophagus’s sensitive lining and can even cause it to become inflamed (oesophagitis).

Even if oesophagitis has not developed, you’ll notice the increased acidity, though mostly without any pain behind your breastbone (sternum). In contrast to the mucous membrane cells, the mucosa in your esophagus lacks any protective film to guard against gastric acid. It is, therefore, directly exposed to the aggressive effects of hydrochloric acid from your stomach.

Your resulting heartburn may be harmless – but it can also indicate a disorder. Heartburn patients are often diagnosed with “acid reflux.” Its possible symptoms can be extremely diverse, with heartburn being the primary complaint.

However, heartburn is often not associated with acid reflux (regarded as the classic symptom par excellence). So for us, it’s already clear:

The cause cannot simply be your diet.

To start with a comprehensive overview, we have listed several symptoms below which accompany heartburn, or which may already indicate chronic acid reflux with oesophagitis. So which of these listed symptoms already apply to you?

A man is spitting fire.

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1.2 Symptoms Checklist for Heartburn/Acid Reflux

  • heartburn as the main symptom of acid reflux (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease – GORD) – the symptom and condition are often equated
  • acid reflux; bad breath as an unpleasant side effect
  • stomach pain and nausea, usually due to stomach irritation
  • general digestive problems such as flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, etc.
  • pressure behind the breastbone, chest pain
  • symptoms such as feeling full and sick after eating or drinking acidic drinks, or consuming alcohol and nicotine
  • your symptoms worsen when you bend over or lie down
  • an irritated mucous membrane in the esophagus
  • irritation of the stomach lining
  • inflammation of the esophagus (oesophagitis)
  • swallowing difficulties, such as pain and burning: if your oesophageal mucosa is irritated or inflamed due to the heartburn, then food remnants will stick to it more easily. Thus, some people often complain of difficulty swallowing and having the feeling of “a lump in the throat.” Others report a feeling of dryness, which prevents proper swallowing and cannot be eliminated, even by drinking a lot.
  • a chronic cough, hoarseness, and frequent clearing of the throat: for some, stomach acid can rise far enough to affect the respiratory tract. This creates a permanent cough, especially at night. Rising stomach acid can also damage the larynx and cause hoarseness.

Are you familiar with some of these symptoms? Then read how they generally arise and how you can begin to help yourself.

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 2. Heartburn – The Diaphragm as the Cause


Investigating the causes of heartburn and severe acid reflux can be extremely complicated for many doctors and their patients. The symptoms vary widely, so does the responsiveness to certain medications – which can make targeted treatment difficult. Pain and antacid medications, including acid blockers and proton pump inhibitors, are often given prematurely and only alleviate the symptoms.

Proton pump inhibitors are also used specifically to diagnose gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) to test whether they have a positive effect on the symptoms. And if so, this is a reliable indicator of an acid reflux condition.

But what can often escape notice is that the actual cause, masked by pain-relieving medicines, can continue to wreak havoc even after these medications have been administered.

✅ Safe Diagnosis

A reliable acid reflux diagnosis requires a gastroscopy or a 24-hour pH monitoring test. Where a gastroscopy is used, this allows your doctor to look closely at the upper end of your digestive tract using a small camera inserted in a tube (endoscope).

We know medication can provide short-term relief from your symptoms, but it won’t help you to lead a pain-free life in the longer term. And because side effects often accompany the supposedly positive effects, it’s best to find out more about this before taking any particular preparation. It’s not always possible to predict precisely how your body will react to the medicine in many instances. Nevertheless, prescribing medication for heartburn is still a prevalent option.

You can see a doctor gesticulating and explaining something to their patient.

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2.1 Conventional Medicine and the Causes of Heartburn

Conventional medicine identifies various types of heartburn. The classic form is gastroesophageal reflux disease. And here, there is a recognized distinction between two different variants:

  • the erosive (tissue-damaging) form, and
  • the non-erosive form.

Generally speaking, these two types differ only in their health implications because they result in the reflux of gastric acid into the esophagus.

However, in the non-erosive form of acid reflux, the esophagus’ mucous membrane shows no signs of inflammation. In contrast, the erosive form is accompanied by clear indications of an irritated throat. Thus doctors usually diagnose an esophagus infection utilizing an endoscopy (using an endoscope to examine the esophagus).

In such cases, doctors attribute a developing reflux issue to an unhealthy diet with too much high-fat content. So large, lavish meals and poor eating habits are partly responsible for the increasing volume of acidic gastric juices reaching the esophagus. Thus there are particular concerns about:

  • rushed meals,
  • heavy meals in the evening,
  • high-fat and sugar-rich foods, and
  • spicy food.

However, what this ignores is the prerequisite that allows gastric juices and sometimes the stomach contents, too, to flow back into the esophagus.

Risk Factors

Conventional medicine also cautions that, in addition to a too greasy, sugary and too spicy diet, certain other factors also increase the risk of heartburn:

  • being overweight: excess body weight puts a strain on the stomach and intestines. The more adipose tissue (body fat) created in the abdomen, the more this affects the sphincter’s closing mechanism at the lower end of the esophagus.
  • stress: anger quickly hits the stomach – we all know the feeling. Stress becomes a ‘slow burner’ when the digestive tract gets blocked, and there is increased production of stomach acid.
  • medication: specific pain and rheumatic drugs are also considered to trigger of heartburn. And they can also contribute to a dysfunction of the muscles between the esophagus and stomach.

2.2 The Role of the Diaphragm in the Development of Heartburn

Roland Liebscher-Bracht and nutritionist Dr. Petra Bracht see the real cause of heartburn less in the above factors than in the body’s physical structures. They attribute heartburn to a functional impairment of the gastric sphincter, and their explanation offers a new way of understanding the development of heartburn and a diagnosed acid reflux. Their approach also questions present therapies that use proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid production since the focus should be on the actual cause:

muscular-fascial tension of the respiratory muscle – the diaphragm..

It’s easy to explain what happens behind the scenes: whenever we breathe, the breathing muscles under the ribs move up and down. The diaphragm muscle itself rises and falls every time you breathe. But due to a lack of exercise, these muscles are insufficiently developed in many people. Little exposure to endurance sports – where you breathe deeply, thus stretching your muscles – coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, can be determining factors in the development of heartburn.

Anatomy: Esophagus, Stomach, Diaphragm

As you now know, Roland Liebscher-Bracht and Dr. Petra Bracht believe the source of your heartburn is not mainly due to sumptuous meals, excessive nicotine, alcohol, or similar risk factors. Nevertheless, the drink mentioned above and tobacco, alongside a high-fat diet and being stressed and overweight, are hardly beneficial if you suffer from heartburn – and neither will they contribute much to your overall well-being.

However, in our experience, the cause of your problem is the sphincter muscle’s failure, which closes off the stomach from the esophagus.

Digestion of your food starts with chewing (you have probably heard this before). Several areas of your body are involved in processing your food. And because they don’t work separately but depend on previous phases and also prepare food for the following stages, a single disorder can produce a kind of domino effect that can affect the entire system.

Stomach and esophagus

Heartburn focuses on the stomach and esophagus. However, a specific muscle that is mostly neglected by conventional medicine plays a critical role. Known in medical terms as the oesophageal sphincter, it can be simply described as the muscle which closes off the stomach entrance from the esophagus. When intact, it holds the stomach acid and the food to be digested securely inside the stomach.

A tense diaphragm

A third component, the diaphragm, also has an important function. It separates two areas with physiologically different features as a muscular plate of connective tissue between the chest and abdomen.1)R.Schleip/T.W.Findley et. al.: Lehrbuch Faszien. Grundlagen–Forschung–Behandlung München, 2014. p.49. Attached to the rib cage (costal arch), the dome-shaped diaphragm lies underneath and rises and falls with every breath. Unfortunately, because today we no longer breathe deeply enough, most people are just too tense.

Too little exercise and too much sitting for too long means the diaphragm becomes more and more stunted. The pumping movements which strengthen its muscles simply do not occur. This shortened respiratory muscle builds up such tension that the functions of neighboring processes are also disturbed.

Illustration of the area of the diaphragm.

© MDGRPHCS | shutterstock.com

✅ Heartburn During Pregnancy

Pregnancy can also increase the risk of heartburn due to the expansion of the abdominal cavity and the partial displacement of its organs – especially during the final weeks.

The process is supported by numerous hormonal changes that affect the entire body. For example, special neurotransmitters have a relaxing effect on pregnant women’s muscles – and thus also on the oesophageal sphincter. As a result, the muscle slackens and can only partially seal the esophagus against acidic stomach content.

If you are a pregnant woman suffering from heartburn, you can arrange your diet to influence your symptoms positively: nuts and dried fruit are recommended, and you should avoid spicy or greasy foods. In addition to these measures, it’s perfectly safe to take part in our exercises against heartburn during your pregnancy.

A Weakened Sphincter Muscle

Because the esophagus runs through the diaphragm and opens out into the stomach, all muscular movements in this channel are of particular importance.

Your shortened and strained respiratory muscle will affect the sphincter’s valve function in particular.

This sphincter is so weak it can no longer perform the task of closing off the stomach from the esophagus. There is a backflow of stomach acid, and sometimes the stomach contents too. Take a look at the two graphics below.

Illustration of the sphincter functioning properly.

© Designua | shutterstock.com (edited)

Illustration of an impaired sphincter.

© Designua | shutterstock.com (edited)

Functional Sphincter

The sphincter can perform its closing-off function unhindered. This ensures gastric juices containing hydrochloric acid, and your stomach contents, remain inside your stomach. There are no unpleasant symptoms.

Impaired Sphincter

During heartburn, the function of the sphincter is impaired. Stomach acid rises from the stomach into the esophagus, causing typical symptoms.

✅ Hiatus Hernia (Ruptured Diaphragm)

Given the diaphragm’s prominent role, it’s hardly surprising that, in isolated instances, heartburn can also be caused by a hiatus hernia (ruptured diaphragm). With a hiatus hernia, the diaphragm can no longer function as a boundary between the chest and abdomen. As a result, organs can move upwards from the gut, causing all sorts of symptoms. However, surgery is only necessary if acid reflux symptoms are extremely severe, if the risk of oesophageal cancer increases, or if other complications such as bleeding occur.

A Digression: Muscles and Fasciae – Tension That Irritates the Sphincter

As you can see from our symptom checklist, heartburn is sometimes accompanied by less specific symptoms such as upper abdominal pain or chest pain, frequent clearing of the throat, and coughing. Understanding the relationship between your upper abdomen (esophagus, diaphragm) and digestive tract (stomach and intestines) is central to our treatment strategy.

Muscles and fasciae run through almost every area of our body and play a prominent role in developing pain. Fascia tissue is liberally supplied with receptors that can transmit mechanical stimuli. Because of this attribute, they have become the focus of a great deal of medical attention, especially in pain therapy. In fascia research, it has emerged that the fascia is the only system, “which has a connection to all of the body’s physiological functions.”2) R. Schleip/T.W.Findley: Lehrbuch Faszien. Grundlagen — Forschung — Behandlung. München, 2014. p.76.

So it’s logical that movement, or lack of mobility, also affects the fasciae’s flexibility.

If tension builds up in muscles and fasciae due to one-sided movement patterns, receptors in the surrounding periosteum (tissue surrounding bones) monitor this and pass this information on to the brain. We refer to such pain impulses as signal pains. We understand this as functional pain, which indicates a failure in our body. In the heartburn case, it is the increasingly tense and underused breathing muscles that impair the sphincter at the entrance to the stomach.

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3. Treatment of Heartburn


A change in diet, and the use of medications such as proton pump inhibitors or acid blockers (antacids which neutralize stomach acid), are the conventional therapies for patients with heartburn or a diagnosed acid reflux. And from our perspective, a healthy and mainly plant-based diet is a vital part of a pain-free life.

A selection of veggies and fruits.

3.1 Diet

Diet has a central role in everything that happens in your body. So for heartburn, you should optimize your diet with a high proportion of plant and essential foods. With a tasty variety of healthy eating and sufficient water and herbal tea (especially one or two cups of chamomile tea), you can keep your stomach environment stable and prevent stomach acid’s overproduction. After a short time, you will then probably notice you experience less stomach pain or feelings of fullness.

Your overall health will benefit from a long-term change in diet. Such stimulants like alcohol, coffee, nicotine, and foods high in fat and sugar should be avoided. These elements can negatively affect your gastric environment and weaken the sphincter muscle (oesophageal sphincter).

Even though we don’t regard your diet and eating habits as the cause of your heartburn attacks, basic food can do a lot of good for your digestive tract.

✅ Home Remedies for Heartburn

Would you prefer not to take acid-binding medication? And are you keen to try out some home remedies for heartburn alongside our exercises? Then we will introduce you to the eight of the most effective ones – from chewing gum to caraway. Generally speaking, they are also suitable for children, and will usually alleviate reflux symptoms quickly. But please remember they are not a permanent solution. They combat your symptoms because they can neutralize stomach acid for a certain time. But they won’t address the causes which trigger your heartburn.

  • Soda: Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a well-known home remedy for heartburn, and is also secreted by the mucous membranes in the mouth, throat, and esophagus. You can take in reasonable quantities with no side effects. You don’t even have to go to the doctor or pharmacy to get baking soda. So how does it work?
    • Baking soda is a salt which reacts with stomach acid and neutralizes it reasonably quickly. That means the typical burning sensations can often be stopped shortly after taking it. Even with acute reflux symptoms, a small amount dissolved in half a glass of water is usually sufficient.
    • And what about baking powder? Since baking powder contains both acid and alkaline substances – unlike baking soda – it doesn’t help with acid reflux!
  • Water and tea: Drinking something often brings relief from heartburn. The acid can be carried back to your stomach, and any excess stomach acid is diluted. A glass of lukewarm, still water, or a cup of low-acid tea such as chamomile tea is particularly suitable.
  • Chewing gum: As unhealthy as chewing gum may appear, it seems to have proven itself in preventing heartburn. Chewing gum stimulates saliva production, and saliva can neutralize stomach acid and thus protect the esophagus.
  • Healing earth: Healing earth (medicinal clay) obtained from a pharmacy can bind acid. You can dissolve a teaspoon of it in half a glass of water and prepare 30 minutes before eating,
  • Apple cider vinegar: Using sour apple cider vinegar to ease heartburn? That’s odd! But that’s actually so, at least if the reflux is only weak and just occurs occasionally. The secret: apple cider vinegar is metabolized as alkali and can, therefore, neutralize the acid. Our tip: stir a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into a small glass of water and drink while eating.
  • Juice from carrots or potatoes: Yes, there are even more drinks to help your heartburn. Carrot juice is said to work and apple cider vinegar, but always make sure you drink the natural juice. The same applies to potatoes. Thanks to the starch they contain, freshly squeezed potato juice can neutralize stomach acid. NB: It’s essential only to drink this juice in small quantities because raw potatoes contain solanine, a toxic alkaloid.
  • Caraway: Caraway is used as a spice, but also as a medicinal plant. With acid reflux, caraway fruits – brewed as a tea – can relieve bloating, have an anticonvulsant effect, and support your digestion.
  • Bananas: Bananas help combat heartburn and reflux in two ways. First, they contain a special active ingredient that stimulates the production of protective mucus in the stomach. And second, their high potassium content has an alkalizing effect, so raising the pH. This neutralizes stomach acids to some extent.
A variety of pain medication.

3.2 Medications: Acid Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors

When patients with uncomfortable heartburn symptoms visit the doctor, they are usually prescribed tablets. The first choice is often some kind of acid blocker. These antacids (anti-acid) are primarily intended to render gastric acid harmless, so it cannot trigger painful inflammation of the esophagus and other secondary conditions. Antacids are known to be fast-acting and widely tolerated. However, it is questionable to what extent they limit your digestive juices’ effectiveness and impedes other healthy digestive processes when you eat.

On the other hand, proton pump inhibitors (PPI) – well-known medicines such as omeprazole, esomeprazole, pantoprazole, and rabeprazole – also inhibit the production of stomach acid. Since they are readily available, everyone tends to use them as self-medication for heartburn. Proton pump inhibitors must initially be taken at a high dosage and then reduced later on.

In many acute cases, proton pump inhibitors relieve excruciating pain, but cannot resolve the cause in the longer term. Once they are discontinued, around 50 percent of patients experience new symptoms.

Furthermore, although proton pump inhibitors alleviate and control symptoms for many, a significant number of patients continue to suffer from acid reflux and don’t respond well to a higher dose.3)M.Storr: Funktionelles Sodbrennen. Update 2013. In: MMW_Fortschritte der Medizin Originalien Nr. IV/2013 (155Jg.), p. 100ff.  

✅ Complications

Please don’t misunderstand what has been said: there are cases in which acid blockers and medications like omeprazole are fully justified and perform well. If acute, acid-related stomach complaints are left untreated, serious complications can ensue. And here, stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers are the two most prominent examples. The duodenum is more frequently affected, but often gets diagnosed late due to the mostly non-specific symptoms.

3.3 Surgery

If acid reflux/GORD is well advanced, and patients do not respond to other treatments, surgery may be necessary. The default method involves forming a cuff around the lower end of the esophagus using part of the upper stomach area. Securely sewn in place, this serves to increase the stability of the oesophageal sphincter.

Please be aware that, like any surgery, this procedure carries a risk. And for that reason, you should only consider this procedure once you have tried all other options without success – including our therapy – and you are suffering immense pain.

3.4 Liebscher & Bracht Heartburn Treatment

Unlike conventional treatments, Liebscher & Bracht employ sustainable long-term measures. We start where standard treatment reaches its limits, mostly due to a lack of knowledge. Our concept is based on the general principle of helping people to help themselves. For us, it’s very important you should understand your own body, because only then can you begin to self-heal. So this is precisely what we want to help you with. And once this basic understanding is in place, we’ll continue to support you.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is looking at the osteopressure points marked on a skeleton.

What does that mean?

We will be at your side, offering advice and action, and providing the right exercises and targeted help for acute pain. Our concept consists of four basic components that can help you, both individually and in combination, to provide long-term support for even the most painful conditions. Furthermore, we recommend that at least two of these four building blocks become part of your everyday life – so stretches and breathing exercises should always be included.

It’s best to take a close look at the different options and decide how you want to start. After all, you are in the best position to assess your pain.

1. Osteopressure:

Our acute therapy involves pressing certain signal pain receptors located in your periosteum, which can activate and reset the relevant brain programs – for heartburn, these are found at the xiphoid process on your lower breastbone and certain points on your rib cage. This will serve to normalize the muscular-fascial tensions once more.

2. Foam Rolling Massage:

To stimulate repair processes, foam rolling massage can loosen strained muscles and fasciae and remove accumulated waste materials in the connective tissue. We particularly recommend obtaining our foam rollers and massage balls before trying our pain relief exercises because they will help you find a more relaxed starting position. This makes stretching easier and can also create fresh stimuli that your body will register and process better.

3. Pain Relief Exercises

Our stretches and certain breathing exercises we introduce in section 4 will help prevent both existing and renewed shortening in your muscles and fasciae. These exercises will allow you to work productively to restore your diaphragm’s functional capacity, thus also strengthening the function of the sphincter.

4. Heartburn: Preventive Exercises

Now you finally get a chance to address your symptoms. This section will show you some useful exercises to help you get rid of your heartburn.

You can’t go wrong with these two simple exercises. Just take a few minutes every day to try them out for yourself. However, you must continue to stick with them because this is the only way to ensure long-term freedom from pain. If you want some advanced tips on performing the exercises or have some questions or initial reservations, please take a look at our checklist below the exercise description.

A woman is bending down while sitting on a couch to relieve her heartburn.

Exercise #1: Stretch your diaphragm and relax the respiratory muscles and fasciae with this simple breathing exercise.
1. Sit comfortably on a chair for this exercise, keeping your upper body upright while placing your feet on the floor a shoulder-width apart.
2. Now take a deep breath and firmly exhale all the air through your mouth. As you exhale, you’ll notice that to breathe out the last of the air, you bend forward more and more towards the finish. We will now consciously use this feature for our exercise.

3. Take another deep breath and exhale through your mouth. Now bend forward and finally let your whole upper body sink between your legs.
4. Repeat this process between three and twelve times. The more you use this exercise, the more flexible your diaphragm becomes.

Foam rolling the diaphragm area for quick heartburn pain relief.

Exercise #2: Grab a mini massage ball and roll from the edge of your costal arch to the middle of your breastbone.

  1. Use your index fingers carefully to probe the middle of your costal arch. You’ll most likely come across a very sensitive area. This small sensitive tip is called sternum.
  2. Once you found the sternum, move about 3-4 cm to the left or right on the costal arch — depending where you want to start the massage.
  3. Place the mini massage ball there and roll it with spiral movements and enough pressure towards your sternum. This might feel a bit uncomfortable, but after a short while you’ll notice how the feeling dissipates.

📌 Checklist for the Liebscher & Bracht Exercises

To make our exercises even easier to perform correctly, we have summarized the most important information in a checklist. This gives you all our tips at a glance and will help you to practice with confidence.

✅ Always orient your efforts on a personal pain scale from one to ten. You’ll get the best results if you work at a level of eight or nine for each stretch. Nine means: Though you feel intense pain, you can still breathe calmly while stretching, and do not feel tense. 

✅ Practice six days a week and do the exercises at least once a day. If you want to support the calming repair processes in your muscles and fasciae even more, you can repeat the exercises every 12 hours: once in the morning and once in the evening.

✅ You should spend between two and two and a half minutes on each exercise phase and hold the respective stretch for at least 90 seconds.

✅ Always use professional tools to treat your pain. If you rely on cheap or even defective products, it might have a negative effect. That’s why we have taken great care in the development of our aids, which are designed especially for pain treatment.

✅ Avoid taking painkillers wherever possible. Our exercises use your pain as a starting reference point for daily comparisons. So you should not suppress it artificially, but use it as an orientation to guide your exercise and stretch intensity. Pain relievers would distort your progress and give you a false impression of your pain.

✅ Be patient — even though rapid results are not uncommon. It may take some time for your brain to learn new exercise programs for your metabolism to normalize and for the tension created by the pull of opposing muscles to decrease.

Good luck with the exercises!

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Sources & Studies   [ + ]